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A Tale of Two Artists

Story posted June 08, 2007

What were the chances that two artists who had been given "roaming rights" to 100 acres of woodlands and several miles of Maine coastline would be drawn to the same root-bound cliff for inspiration? Such was the magic of place for two Bowdoin visual art students this summer who received grants to create new works at Bowdoin's Coastal Studies Center (CSC).

Video Feature: The Artist in Her Studio
Sam Smith '06
Click on photo to watch Samantha Smith '06 discuss the print that led her in a new direction. (View using Quicktime.)

Rusack Fellow Samantha Smith ’06 spent a largely bucolic summer creating monoprints along the CSC shore. One day, her investigation led her to a bowing spruce tree root, slung at cliff's edge. Behind it, a small cavern of splintered shale. Intrigued by its textured contrasts, she began sketching it for a monoprint, which became a central work in her summer-long study of rock formations.

Two weeks later, Rusack Fellow Norah Maki ’09 also made a pilgrimage to this hidden perch. As part of a series of site-specific sculptural installations as the CSC, Maki wedged flattened tin can lids vertically into the cavern, creating an industrial echo of shale.

Neither artist knew of the other's work, yet in their separate mediums, each created something mysterious and bold.

Can Lids
Norah Maki '09 flattened aluminum can lids to create a suprising, witty echo of nature.

"I was experimenting with the lids of cans, inserting them into the base of uprooted trees, like lichens or mushrooms," explains Maki. "When I came to this cove, I thought it would be great to put the metal directly into the rock. It's interesting to me because it's so saturated with sea water — I wanted to play with how an object is reclaimed by the natural processes of decay. What is the relationship between creation and entropy?"

Norah Maki
"I wanted to play with how an object is reclaimed by the natural processes of decay," says Maki, onsite at the CSC.

Already, the tides are rusting the lids into beautiful hues and textures.

Maki approached her summer of art-making with a specific idea in mind: to play with natural forms using manmade materials, placing them in "found" sites throughout a network of trails at the CSC. Her medium was No. 10 industrial aluminum food-service cans.

"I liked the way they looked when I cut off the ends," explains Maki. ''They have an organic quality that comes out — like tree bark, or pods, or the petals on a pinecone."

Her exploration of natural form began with a mathematical inquiry. She researched inherent patterns found in plants and found her imagination sparked by computer-generated drawings of attractors. "Attractors serve as visual explanations of patterns in the seemingly random behavior of a given system," she explains. "They look like nautilus shells or spirals and they are basically patterned chaos."

Attractors led to fractals, fractals led to spirals. Ideas led to works.

By the time August rolled around, Maki had created 11 unique objects nestled among CSC walking paths. She also created a brochure about her project, titled "Inviting Entropy: Re-Evaluating the Effects of Coastal Forces through Sculpture." It includes a map of her works and is available at the information kiosk in the CSC parking area.

Print detail
A detail from one of Smith's prints.

Samantha Smith's journey was perhaps more internal, but no less powerful. She is a gifted printmaker, whose etchings celebrate the details of landscape. Her challenge was to recognize the call to abstraction that began to emerge as she immersed herself in the textures and light around her.

"My work started out pretty representational," says Smith, "but I found as I got into the patterns of the rocks along the coast I became more interested in their abstract qualities. Getting so close to rocks you can barely tell what it is. And in the light before sunset, rocks emerging out of darkness."

Smith's evocative prints will be on display at the VAC this fall.

"For artists to have a summer just devoted to creative work is such a fortunate thing," notes A. LeRoy Greason Professor of Art Mark Wethli, who mentored the pair this summer. "Both of these artists were open to spontaneity. One of the more important lessons we try to teach in the visual arts is to keep your eyes and ears open to new possibilities. Both Norah and Sam did this beautifully."

Rusack Coastal Studies Fellowships support students in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences who are involved in projects that provide new insight and understanding into the multiple facets of coastal studies.

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I wanted to play with how an object is reclaimed by the natural processes of decay. What is the relationship between creation and entropy?
— Norah Maki '09